Sunday, 14 July 2013

Prostitution in Bradford - what we should have said in response to that petition


Last week Bradford Council received a large petition - over 1500 names - protesting about prostitution in and around Lumb Lane in Manningham. Under the Council's rules such a large petition triggers a fifteen minute debate in full council.

So we had the debate. It was unedifying.

The petitioners were calling for us to "stop, ban and move" prostitution in the area. There was no compromise in their argument - families, women, businesses and the community were damaged by these prostitutes. And worse the trade was associated with drugs, drinking and other bad things that the 'community' wished to see gone.

Now I have a little bit of sympathy. But that stops when I consider what happens if, in that area, we 'stop, ban and move' street prostitutes. I'm guessing that the trade will relocate and that, in a short time, we'll be hearing the same concerns expressed by another community. In fact I'm not guessing, I know this is the case since that is what happened that last time prostitution was run out of Lumb Lane. It upped sticks and moved to City Road and Thornton Road.

This was followed by a set of speeches that - with one exception - barely mentioned the women involved. We heard that prostitution is largely an enforcement issue and that, back in the day, we had the vice squad to keep a lid on it. We were told that of course the ward councillors were concerned, had driven down the roads in questions (no tittering there of course) and were engaged with the community over the matter.

And then we had a long prepared speech on the evils of 'commercial sex', on how we should control 'demand, supply and opportunity' in order to drive the scourge of prostitution from Lumb Lane. The idea that someone might actually want to offer sexual services in exchange for money was rejected - prostitution and 'commercial sex' must not be tolerated and should be banned in all its forms.

Just one speaker indicated that prostitutes were not unspecified semi-humans but were mostly women. And that the problems of violence, abuse and drug-dependency might - in part - underlie the issue (that and the fact that it's a market with buyers and sellers - something no-one mentioned).

Through all this I sat muttering in my beard that perhaps we might like to look at a gentler approach, something other than prohibition - a bit of liberalisation. After all, just because you are morally offended by the idea of sex for sale doesn't mean that it should be banned. You have the choice not to buy that sex and even to argue that others shouldn't buy that sex.

The truth be told, banning things is seldom an effective approach. And this is especially true where something as basic as sex is involved. But us politicians bite our tongues rather than challenge the dominant prohibitionist line on the sex trade. We complain about lap dancing clubs, we tut about sex shops and we call for more and more enforcement around street prostitution. And we think of prostitutes as trashy chavs less deserving of our care than nice 'community members'.

I don't know the extent to which we can - on our own in Bradford - move towards a more European approach to the sex trade. Whether we can use licensing and the drawing of boundaries to ensure that the 'red light' area is well defined (avoiding the disturbance to families or communities) and that health advice and support can be provided to the sex workers. It seems to me that this would be a better outcome than what we'll actually get - more police patrols, the hounding of punters and a lot of hot air about community safety. Not only will this change nothing, it will play into the hands of the worst sorts in the trad.

And in ten years we'll be back talking again about the 'problems' with street prostitution. There must be a better way.


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